The 6 pillars of life - build strong personal foundations

The 6 pillars of life - build strong personal foundations

I have 5 pillars of life – and they need to remain in tension. I can’t help but ponder that work life balance is a myth. There is no balance for many of us in the modern world, only a tension that needs maintaining. But with the blurring of lines between work and life and our always on modern world of work, it feels like we need some yardstick or frame to measure up to.

That’s why I defined myself some pillars of life. They help me understand the tension, consciously choose where to focus and ensure I am build on strong foundations.

Watch, listen or read below.

In this video I share ideas about the pillars of life (as I see them).

Pillars of Life

The first step to leading a rich and fulfilling life is to take control and ownership of your Pillars of Life. No work life balance but foundational pillars that are under tension and need managing.

By becoming the best person you can be, you will become a better employee, manager and entrepreneur too.

Life is short – don’t fill it with someone else’s dreams, goals and activities.

Seasons of life affect work life balance

We are all in a different season of our life.

We are each driven by different motivations and reasons for doing what we do. We each have a different focus on the world and what we’re trying to do in it. But we are all human and we have similar pillars that underpin us as human beings.

A good career and life are built upon many pillars that must be strong and in balance. Solid foundations that must support growth. A solid foundation for achieving goals and keeping our ambition in check.

When we don’t have strong foundations, we topple and fall. It will be hard to grow and develop. And we may neglect a pillar so much that it crumbles away to nothing.

For too long I focused on the pillar of effectiveness at work and neglected my health and my family. I subconsciously knew it was happening but did nothing about it. It’s strange how we are aware of failings in many aspects of our lives, so we cling to the things that are going well.

Then my world came crashing down. I burned out.

This moment was a clear sign I was out of balance. I took the time to reflect on where it had gone so wrong. I listed the pillars that I needed to build strong foundations in my life.

It took a while to get the pillars right. And once I was happy with them, I refocused energy on building each one back up. I needed each one to be strong in their own right before I could become the best version of myself, before I could reach those goals and before I could realistically give back anything to anyone.

Ensuring your pillars are strong requires a near constant awareness of yourself. It’s not a work / life balance, but a tension that must be managed constantly. As soon as we focus on one pillar, we could lose sight of another.

With the pillars of life, I had a decision-making framework to guide my energy and time. Instead of thinking about work life balance, I could instead think about foundational pillars.

  • Should I do this project? Or spend time with my kids?
  • Should I go to the gym, or work on that new book?
  • Should I speak at this conference, or take the weekend to rest?

The more I used the pillars to guide my decision making, the more conscious I became about the foundations in my life.

We will all need to focus on a few pillars more than others, as we journey through life. In our early season of life, we may strive for impact and career growth. When we have children, we will need to focus on our family pillar more.

It’s not easy managing this tension, but I urge you to consider your pillars, and look at the tension that exists in your own life.

By consciously understanding where the tension is, you can avoid going too long without paying due care to the pillars that really matter to you. You can also make informed and rational choices about what to do when you are faced with decisions and obstacles.

Remember – our kids have these pillars too.

I’m not qualified to cover in depth, some of these pillars in this book. When it comes to health and money you need to seek professional advice and input.

The Pillars of Life

There are 6 pillars of life, as I define them:

  1. Health
  2. Family
  3. Productivity and Effectiveness
  4. Money and Finance
  5. Societal Impact
  6. Education

Pillars of Life – No. 1 – HEALTH

Our health is the most important of all of the pillars.

Without our health, we will have little else to worry about.

We need to be strong, fit, healthy and alert for our families. And of course, for the people and companies we work with.

It may seem selfish to put your own health above everything else. But if we cannot help ourselves, how can we help others?

Health is such a broad spectrum that it would be impossible to do it justice in this book. Instead I refer you to Cultivated Reading List for my best recommendations.

Don’t think of health as simply our bodies. It is our spirit and mind too. As you read this post, you will see that working on controlling our thinking and emotions is a core skill of effective, employable parents.

Try not to neglect health. I did and it took years for the degradation to become visible. We only get one life and body; I urge you to take care of yours.

Pillars of Life – No. 2 – FAMILY

When it comes to prioritising your work life and family, it’s always family first. Simple as that.

When it comes to the Pillars of Life it pays to list out those people who are important to you and find a way to put them first.

Without your family, there is little point in having a successful career, a good salary or a well-known personal brand.

  • Who will you celebrate these successes with?
  • Who will be there for you when it all goes away?
  • Who will you go home to in the evening and share your joy, troubles and thoughts with?
  • Who will you be doing all of this for?

Family first. After looking after your health of course.


Being effective is essential in the workplace. There are plenty of people in work doing busy work, but not all of this work is effective.

Work on being effective rather than simply busy. It is much better for your career if you can find levers to pull that create great value, with minimal energy used. Subscribe to the Parent Brain YouTube channel or blog mailing list for weekly informational advice from me on this subject.

It’s also easier to learn to be effective, than it is to hide from the usual performance review or keep your head down and hope nobody spots you.

Being effective means you’ll stand a greater chance of getting things right first time, so you won’t have to redo work or get into trouble for not delivering correctly.

Being effective means work and opportunities will come to you. It’s easier to be effective than it is to keep looking for a new job and polishing your CV.

I meet people every day who have no idea how to be effective. Instead of learning how to be effective, they are spending their time dealing with the consequences of not being effective.

This workbook and the YouTube channel are (and will be) full of ideas on how to be effective.

Effectiveness at work though, is just one pillar. I got hooked on being effective and growing my career. I put it above health and family. Never again.

Effectiveness is not efficiency though. Ensure you are effective first, then efficient. There is little point in making something ineffective more efficient.

Pillars of Life – No. 4 – MONEY AND FINANCE

We all need a certain level of income to survive. We often need less than we realise, yet we’re conditioned to strive for more.

More money doesn’t solve many of the problems we have in our lives – because most of them are in our heads. In fact, with more money we may have more problems.

Wherever we go, we are there, with our minds and the problems we carry around with us. No amount of flash cars, big houses, fancy holiday homes and posh watches helps us get out of our own heads.

Saying that, we all need money to help pay the bills, treat our kids and give them a solid future.

It is easier to command higher salaries than you would imagine. It starts with being effective, helping other people succeed, focusing on what is important, developing self-confidence, improving communication skills, learning more and sometimes, simply asking for what you want. Of course, this takes time and energy and focus.

I’m not qualified to give you advice on money, but there are resources on the reading list.

Pillars of Life – No. 5 – SOCIETAL IMPACT

The test of a good business is whether it would be missed by society if it disappeared.

All organisations exist to serve the society they are part of. So naturally, if a business is doing good things, it would be missed.

The same is true of us as employees. We are not irreplaceable, but good employees would be missed if they left the organisation.

We should strive to be that employee; the one who adds lots of value, the one who is a pleasure to work with, the one who is last on the list should the company need to downsize.

Companies are societies in and of themselves. Our contribution to our company should be positive and valuable. We should expect little in return for our contributions, because adding value to the society we work in is simply the right thing to do.

If we do it well, and we are working for people who understand how to treat people well, then we should see our value rewarded. This is not always the case, but the more value we can add, the more we may get in return.

As I mentioned though, we should add to the company we work in anyway – it makes it a much more rewarding place to work, for us, and others.

By adding value, and not leaching resources, time and energy, we will leave a lasting legacy on that company. We will make it better. We will add to it. We will want to be in this society. We will want to work in this organisation.

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s not just at work that we should do the right thing. The same principles should apply to our own home lives, to the community we live in, and the bigger societies that we are part of.

Add value.

Give. Don’t take.

Pillars of Life – No. 6 – EDUCATION

Education is a core theme of this blog – getting better by learning.

Education is a pillar of life that needs tending to often. It can be easy to put personal development to the side when work gets busy, or life gets in the way.

It’s the pillar that will see us getting better, as people, as employees, as business owners.

Learning helps us become smarter. It helps us to widen our awareness. It helps us add more value.

Education doesn’t end at the establishments like school or University. It’s a lifelong commitment. Later I’ll share with you how to create a Personal Knowledge Management System, geeky but effective.

But most importantly, if you take nothing away from this post, please remember that learning is about putting into action the things you are studying.

I’ve worked with plenty of people who could recite a book, a process, a theory, but they had no idea how to implement it.

Implement the ideas in this book, and every other book you read. See what works for you, and what doesn’t. Reflect on the things you try, tweak them, mash them with other ideas, create a new way of working.

Learning is both information based (by reading and studying) and task based (by doing the work).

I hope this helps explain how I approach managing the tension and why work life balance, at least to me, is a myth.